The common mallow flower, Malva neglecta, is part of the large family of Malvaceae plants that include cotton, okra and hibiscus. It is an edible plant that has been used for medicinal care as well as food. The fruits are round and have cheese-like wedges which give the common mallow its nickname, cheese plant. The flowers are very pale pink or white and grow in clusters. In most climates the plants start to bloom in spring and die back when the weather cools in the fall.
Common mallow was introduced to the United States from Europe. Most people consider it a weed. The U.S. Forest Service lists it as a weed that invades natural areas in the United States, according to invasive.org.
When left to go to seed, common mallow spreads into agricultural fields, lawns and open spaces. It is difficult to eradicate. The best way to get rid of mallow is by pulling up the young plants. They develop a long root, called a taproot, as they grow and get more difficult to pull up once they are established.
The leaves and young shoots are edible, either raw or cooked. The leaves create a mucus when cooked (a little bit like okra) and can be added to soups to thicken and flavor them. In salads, common mallow can be used with or instead of lettuce. The flavor is mild, like lettuce.
The dried leaves can be used for tea; pour hot water over them and steep for a few minutes the same way you make tea from other herbs.
The mallow roots release a thick mucus when boiled in water. The thick liquid that is created can be beaten to make a meringue-like substitute for egg whites.
Native Americans have used common mallow to relieve skin inflammation. Both flowers and leaves were mixed with oil or tallow and applied to the skin. This will soothe irritated skin and soften dry skin. The common mallow will induce coughing when applied to the chest to relieve congestion. This plant also acts as a mild laxative.
Butterflies and Bees
Common mallow attracts several varieties of bees and butterflies. It is beneficial in that way. Painted lady butterflies lay their eggs on thistles, mallows and hollyhocks so that the caterpillar can eat the plant when it hatches.
A Weed With Few Admirers
Common mallow is a weed that annoys farmers and gardeners. The flowers are attractive enough and it is edible, but it has no value to most people today. This is not a plant that anyone would want to cultivate. If you find it in your garden, pull it out before the seed pod forms or you will have LOTS of common mallow and maybe some butterflies stopping by.
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